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‘We are scared’: Murder of 2 Christian ministers in India adds to believers’ fears

NEW DELHI (BP)–Two ministers have been murdered in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since mid-May in what an All India Christian Council official has called “a very planned way of terrorizing the Christian community,” Compass Direct news service reported June 6.

On June 2, police found the body of Isaac Raju just outside the state capital of Hyderabad in southern India. The independent church pastor had been missing since May 24.

On May 21, the body of K. Daniel, a preacher from Kummarvadi, also was found on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

Sam Paul, national secretary of the All India Christian Council, told Compass, “We don’t know what’s happening, but we are scared.

“Someone called and told the police that [Raju’s] body was lying [behind some bushes in the capital’s Golconda area]. At first the police could not find the body. Then another call came, giving precise directions, and the body was found,” Paul recounted. “The same thing happened in Daniel’s case. They called to tell where the body was. It’s a very planned way of terrorizing the Christian community.”

The murders come at a time when All India Christian Council leaders are voicing opposition to a recommendation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that India be removed from the list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” or CPCs. The USCIRF, in its most recent report, credited India with “significant developments affecting freedom of belief” during the past year.

India was designated a CPC in 2004, when the USCIRF stated that India’s Bharatiya Janata Party government had not adequately addressed the killing of up to 2,000 Muslims in 2002 riots in the state of Gujarat, nor had it addressed a growing number of violent attacks on the Christian minority in many states.

The BJP, which won parliamentary control in 1998, was ousted from national power in India’s May 2004 elections — a factor cited by the USCIRF in recommending that the State Department drop India from the list of Countries of Particular Concern.

However, Christian leaders have voiced surprise and concern at the recommendation, according Compass, which noted the leaders’ ongoing concern over a strong climate of religious hostility despite the 2004 election of the United Progressive Alliance led by the Indian National Congress Party.

John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union and a member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, emphasized that the root cause of continuing religious violence is the militant ideology spread by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu extremist organization with close ties with the BJP.

“The RSS is … spreading hate among the tribals and buying its way into the bureaucracy and judiciary,” Dayal told Compass in a June 2 report.

“The international community must fully and publicly investigate the RSS and all its sub-organizations, their funding, ideology and spread among the Indian diaspora in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean,” he stated.

The BJP and its political allies still control state governments in Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

Dayal pointed to numerous incidents of anti-Christian violence during the past year in those states where, under the Indian constitution, the central government can do little to ensure the protection of religious minorities. Sporadic violence also has occurred in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala, states governed by the Congress Party.

The ongoing violence prompted a delegation of Christian leaders to present an unofficial white paper to the government in March listing more than 200 incidents in which Christians had faced severe harassment or physical attacks during the first quarter of this year.

Following their election to power, the UPA promised to enact a federal law against religious violence. However, more than a year after the election, no such law exists.

The USCIRF also said India’s Supreme Court had taken “significant steps designed to bring to justice those responsible for the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002.”

While the Supreme Court has reopened hundreds of cases connected with the Gujarat riots, the Gujarat state government, led by renowned Hindu militant Narendra Modi, has caused numerous delays in the judicial process, both for the Gujarat riot trials and another case in which 14 Muslims were killed.

“The current central government has taken several healthy steps to reassure minorities,” Dayal told Compass. “But as long as the killers of the Gujarat massacres remain free, and as long as Modi rules in Gujarat … India cannot claim to have cleansed itself of the blood of innocent minority communities.”

Among the incidents cited in the Christian leaders’ white paper:

— A militant Hindu group in the state of Orissa, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), has threatened to launch a campaign for the dismissal of Christian government officers over an order granting equal rights to tribal Christians, including Christian converts, to receive the same employment and education benefits as tribal people of other faiths. Levinus Kindo, a Christian revenue officer who occupied one of the most senior posts in the Indian Administrative Service, ordered the change before he retired earlier this year.

Prior to Kindo’s order, Orissa Christians in the Santhal tribe were denied social benefits since they were listed merely as Christians and not as “Santhal Christians.” The Santhals are recognized as underprivileged in India’s constitution as a “Scheduled Tribe” and given reserved placements in jobs and educational institutions. Nearly 17 percent of all government jobs and educational placements are reserved for Scheduled Tribes in India; another 26 percent are reserved for the Scheduled Castes.

“The order is wrong,” VHP spokesman Gouri Prasad Rath told Compass. “There is no need to add caste or tribe in the case of Christians. Once a Christian, always a Christian. Christian officers [who have allowed] their castes and tribes to get benefits of reservation in government services … should all be sacked.”

Dayal noted in response: “… in the case of tribes, the constitution clearly states that no matter what religion they choose to follow, they should continue to get all the benefits enshrined for them in the constitution. They [the VHP] are trying to totally disenfranchise the Santhals and other tribals who choose to follow Christianity.”

The VHP also has objected to a Christian campaign to extend reservation benefits to Dalit Christians. According to the present law, Dalits or other low-caste Hindus who convert to Christianity are denied reserved placements granted to Dalit Hindus. However, Dalits who convert to Islam or Sikhism have been included in the list of beneficiaries due to intense lobbying by their leaders. The issue of Dalit Christians is now before the Supreme Court, which has asked the federal government to explain why rights given to Dalit Muslims and Sikhs are not available to Dalit Christians.

— The state government of Chhattisgarh announced plans in late March to strengthen existing anti-conversion laws following reports that the numbers of Christian converts in the state is increasing. Under existing provisions, those who convert without official approval may be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to 10,000 rupees ($220). However, pending regulations call for imprisonment for up to four years and fines of 100,000 rupees ($2,175).

On April 2, a Hindu group held a “reconversion” ceremony in Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district in which they claimed 700 Christians had reconverted to Hinduism. During the reconversion ceremony, a former cabinet minister threatened Christian workers, saying, “If Christian missionaries don’t stop converting people, we will take up arms.”

— Hindu militants physically attacked 11 Christian families in the state of Maharashtra on May 15, according to the white paper. Officials in the village of Jamanya had summoned the families to a community court and asked them to renounce their faith, accusing them of bringing bad luck to the village. When the families refused, the men were beaten with heavy sticks and chased from the village. The following day, their wives and children also were beaten. In a Compass report, sources also stated that the mob tried to disrobe women in the group.

— Individuals described in the white paper as RSS members attacked and beat eight students from the Beersheba Bible College in the state of Pathanamthitta on May 12. The students were making their way to a funeral when about 15 young RSS members on motorcycles assaulted them; all of the victims were treated at a hospital for wounds from sharp weapons, with three being hospitalized.

— A crowd of nearly 500 Hindus in Karnataka state attacked a house church in the village of Mangalwarapete on May 1. Assailants sexually molested some of the women among the 60 people present at the Sunday service and burned Bibles and other Christian literature, according to the white paper. The mob beat Pastor Paulraj Raju of King Jesus Church until he bled profusely. The attackers identified themselves as members of the Bajrang Dal and the BJP, according to the white paper.

— A mob of 200 Hindus in the state of Manipur overpowered a police patrol and set fire to the Believer’s Church in the Thoubal district on April 19. Following a similar attack in November 2004, authorities had ordered police protection for the church during reconstruction. According to the white paper, villagers have now asked church members to abandon the premises or “face the consequences.”
Compiled by Art Toalston from Compass Direct reports that included reporting by Satya Kumar. Compass Direct, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focuses on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.

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